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Are Cheating Social Gamers Also Real-Life Cheaters?

2012 January 26

A recent study by Information Solutions Group, sponsored by PopCap Games, led Gamasutra to claim:

A new study from PopCap Games finds that those who cheat while playing social games are nearly 3.5 times more likely to be dishonest in the real world than non-cheaters, with offenses ranging from cheating on taxes to illegally parking in handicapped spaces.

Although it doesn’t say so explicitly, that’s pretty obviously phased to lead you to believe that social cheating leads to real-life cheating.  Since this was most likely a survey study, it seemed quite unlikely that they could make casual conclusions like that.  So that led me to investigate the original study, which you can find for yourself here.

From that, it is clear that this was in fact a survey: a web-based presentation of 38 question to a sample that ultimately consisted of 801 US respondents and 400 UK respondents (total N=1201).  The study specifically excluded anyone who played less than 15 minutes of social games per week.  There’s no discussion of how many respondents completed the survey but were excluded, so it’s not very clear how well this survey would generalize to gamers in general (or any larger group).

The survey report starts by emphasizing the growing importance of social games by referencing another study that estimates 118.5 million social gamers in 2011 the US and UK, about a 17% increase from January 2010.  There are a lot of social gamers; no surprise there.  In PopCap’s study, they further identified that about 81 million play at least once per day, with 49 million playing more than once per day.

The report continued by exploring the profiles of current social gamers: mostly women (55%) with a mean age of 39 years old (down a little bit from last time).  They play these games because they thinks it’s fun, competitive, stress relieving, and a mental workout.  I’m curious exactly which social games are a mental workout (FarmVille?), but it was left unreported.

8% of respondents reported using hacks, bots, or cheats in a social game, with 11% saying they had considered it but had not actually tried it.  That actually seems a bit high to me, and I wonder how their sample was located; they do not say.  If their sample is loaded more toward (and bear with me here) “hardcore social gamers,” the rest of their results are a little less trustworthy.  Without details on sampling, there’s no way to know.

Imagine my surprise when I reached the end of the report with absolutely no mention of the finding Gamasutra reports above.  You are welcome to search for yourself (and if you find it, please let me know!), but after scanning through page by page, I searched the text for “cheat”, and for the specific percentages reported by Gamasutra.  Nothing.  So we are left to simply trust Gamasutra’s reporting with no verifiable source.  That’s not that uncommon, but it is a bit suspicious when they point to a PDF report to provide support for their statement.

Without that support, there’s not much available to analyze, but we can at least say that the reporting above is a bit misleading.  Here are several possible explanations for the reported cheating correlation, assuming it is accurate in the first place:

  • People that cheat in social games are rewarded for doing so, and that leads them to cheat in real life.
  • People that cheat in real life are rewarded for doing so, and that leads them to cheat in social games.
  • People that self-report cheating in one category are more likely to self-report cheating in another category.
  • There is an underlying psychological characteristic (e.g. integrity) that leads to cheating behaviors across situations.

As you can probably guess, the last two are more probable than the first two.  Although it’s tempting to attribute causality here (much like in the debate on violence in video games causing violence), there is no evidence to suggest this – correlation is not causation.  It is more likely that cheaters are cheaters, regardless of context.  We’ve just found a new way to identify them.

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  1. February 17, 2012

    I think what people do in the game is similar to what they do in life. Because mental strategies are the same.

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